Group effort brightens East Cleveland ballfield

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio (AP) - Two years ago, Shaw High School's baseball field at Forest Hill Park was so bad that the Cardinals preferred to play away games.
Trees were growing through the outfield fence, bleachers were collapsing and the field was a treacherous patch of dust and rocks.
"You had potholes, mud holes," said Tremayne Kellom, a former player who graduated in 1998. "We'd go to these other schools, suburban schools. Their fields would be all nice. Then we'd come home. I wished we had all away games."
Now, coaches, players and parents have turned the field into a source of pride for Cardinals and the community, which has been struggling economically and has seen its financially troubled school district taken over by the state.
Volunteers planted infield grass, installed a sprinkler system and built dugouts of cinder blocks and wood. Coach Mike Dillon's brother, a contractor, commuted 70 miles from New Philadelphia to build a press box and concession stand.
An electronic scoreboard donated by the school board is expected to arrive soon. Dillon would like to have a dedication ceremony May 17, when Shaw plays a Parents Day doubleheader against Cleveland Central Catholic.
"The nicer we can make this, the more it will pull up everything around it," he said.
"A lot of stuff that went into this was our own," said Michael Rankin, a junior outfielder. "We did a lot of work."
The district provided more than one-fourth of the $42,000 renovation expenses, but most of the balance was donated. The baseball parents association gave $7,500. Players sold $4,600 in candy, and Dillon contributed more than $1,000.
The city is so short of money that a volunteer group tends the park. Lake View Cemetery has agreed to mow the field for free.
Dillon, head coach for the last three years, has players pick up litter and rake the field.
Shaw has won two state championships, the most recent in 1968, but the program has slumped in recent years as the area has gone into economic decline.
The low point came in 1995, when the Cardinals ended the regular season with eight eligible players and had to forfeit in the opening round of the state tournament.
This year, Shaw has freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams and a total of 45 players.
Dillon said his efforts to attract players and get them to practice are hindered by overwhelming distractions of the streets.
Some possible players are stuck baby-sitting or running errands for single parents. Many have no ride home.
Al Thompson, president of Shaw's baseball parents, praised Dillon for pushing players to succeed in life.
The coach, who also teaches social studies, asks for daily progress reports from other teachers to ensure players are in class. He visits homes when problems arise and makes contacts to help team members continue playing if they go on to college.
"He really cares about the kids in East Cleveland, which is one of the reasons I got more involved in the baseball program," Thompson said. "He's really done beyond what he's supposed to do."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)